Music and Worship
By Don Shrader
Regarding music and worship in the church today, there is much controversy surrounding “contemporary” versus “traditional” music in our services. Some want to know what is meant by the use of the word “contemporary.” Does it mean the use of rock music or is it simply the use of praise choruses or is it something else? Is it really important? There is a great gulf developing in our churches over this issue. Much of the issue is caused by the perception, if not the reality, that those who hold to one position on this subject are trying to force the church to accommodate that side’s individual tastes in music in deference to the personal likes of the other. However, no matter the agreements or disagreements between the two sides, this issue is much more complex than what you, I or others merely like or dislike.
ENTERTAINMENT vs WORSHIP
I grew up in church listening to the latest gospel quartets and singing what are now called praise choruses. Not all of it was good, and looking back on it within the realm of my current position regarding church worship, I would not necessarily support all of it in the church worship services even though I enjoyed it thoroughly. But, no matter what it was or how it was performed, it was distinctly Christian. Admittedly, there were times that it was done to attract the outside world to church and thus too often it began to reflect the world rather than the uniqueness of the gospel.
Within Christendom, there have always been those songs and other entertainment features that were just that – entertainment. It is my contention that there is a gulf between entertainment and worship. Coming out of my generation with the all-night gospel sings, etc., we have wrongfully (in my opinion) attempted to label everything gospel as worship. We are afraid to differentiate between worship and Christian entertainment. But I think there are both, and although they may sometimes come very close together and even overlap at times, I think they are different; there is a gulf between them that should not be bridged, and yet we should not label Christian entertainment as wrong except when it definitely violates Christian values and sensitivities. And, we should not be afraid to call Christian entertainment what it is. We should be able to enjoy it whether it is music, drama or whatever. It may have a gospel message and it may not. One of my favorite nights at Cedarville College the past couple of years was attending a concert given by two professors in the music department. It was during Parents’ Weekend. It was a great time, it was extremely entertaining and it was totally clean and just plain fun. And they did not play one gospel song! It was intended as pure good clean entertainment. To me, much of what is considered Christian music has no more spiritual content than what I heard at Cedarville. It doesn’t make it bad, it just is not worship nor, in my opinion, is it worthy of worship.
At the same time, not every old hymn in the book is good and worthy of being included in our worship. I do not equate old with good. There have been some excellent songs/hymns written in the last decade that are worthy of being part of the worship process. And there are a number of songs in our old hymnbooks, some of which we sing, that are not worshipful, are not good and are not particularly useful in my opinion. If it were up to me, I would not include those hymns in our worship service either. The real issue is not what we like or dislike but “what is the purpose of music in the worship service?” If we can truly answer that, I think we can resolve many of the disagreements within the church regarding the proper use of music in worship whether contemporary or traditional.
THE PURPOSE OF MUSIC IN WORSHIP
It is my opinion that we sing many of the songs that we do because it makes us feel good. This is not the purpose of worship. To me, worship should be instructional, it should strengthen us in our daily walk with the Lord by reminding us of the God we serve, and it should be instrumental (not in the musical sense) in bringing the entire congregation together in praise of our wonderful Lord, the Almighty God. It is NOT about me!! It is about Him! And any hymn or praise song which does not accomplish the goals set forth above in either word or style should not be included in the worship process.
Leonard Payton, a professional musician and worship leader writes the following in his chapter “How shall we sing to God?” for the book The Coming Evangelical Crisis.
We are, more times than not, a people defined by our music. We fight over it in the church. We change congregations because of worship music style, with little concern for the theology of the new or the old congregation.
(Many ministers of music today) sense that we are in a runaway train headed straight for a broken bridge. My prayer is for a deep reformation in church music – that all alike will be led to insist, within their own spheres of influence, that comprehensive biblical principles be brought to bear on every detail of worship music.
Indeed the real crisis is this: Ecclesiastical authorities, while recognizing that music is important to congregational life, usually fail to see that its biblical role puts it squarely within the ministry of the Word as a partner to preaching. For, as the apostle Paul told us, the word of Christ dwells richly within us with all wisdom when we teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs and sing with gratitude in our hearts to God with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16).
Our congregations are concerned that we make them feel a certain way when they come to church. In the rampant uncertainty of the postmodern world, parishioners understandably want stability in church life (even though they claim to want diversity). If we church musicians paused for a moment and realized how much music belonged within the ministry of the Word, we might alter our practices in a way that would disrupt the general bonhomie [good nature or amiability].
Ours will be a difficult task because music literacy in our surrounding culture is at an all-time low, even though we hear more music in our day-to-day existence than in any culture preceding ours. This task requires, clearly, that we understand both the Bible and music. If we are to recover the authority of Scripture in our worship, then we must likewise recover it in our music, which is an important element of true God-centered worship conforming to the principle of sola Scriptura.
I truly wish we understood our church doctrines better and were more careful in what we choose to sing, whether old or new, to ensure that they are in-line with our church doctrines, beliefs and teachings. The songs we sing and listen to should reflect these teachings to us, to the lost and particularly to our children. God instructs the Israelites to “be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, ‘Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.'” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10). I think this is what we are to do for our children through our corporate worship, and in particular, our singing of hymns, whether old or new. The Bible is replete with examples of the children of Israel employing songs to carry out the commands of God as given here in Deuteronomy and elsewhere. Think about it. Sometimes there is no better way for children and others to learn than through instructional songs. Reflect on how you or your children learned their ABC’s, through the song, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G….” I am certain you can think of many other such examples. Thus, it is important that our singing, whether through traditional hymns or praise choruses, teach doctrine to those around us including and especially our children.
Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that “He gave some… to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ [the church] may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This needs to be our primary focus in all that we do in the church.
Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow conducted a study in which he employed a team of trained interviewers to seek out Americans who would “give a full account of the nature and attributes of God, as well as a doctrine of creation, the origins of evil, the possibilities of redemption, and reasons people should believe in certain tenets about immortality and eschatology.” “We found no living examples of such people,” writes Wuthnow, despite the fact that their interviews included clergy, PK’s (Preachers’ Kids), and others trained in religion. (They did not ask me, or others that I know who I believe could have satisfactorily answered these questions – depending upon how they were phrased. But that does not take away from the impact of these results. I know many including clergy and the like who could not properly respond to or defend their position on these topics.)
What Wuthnow’s team did find was that “many Americans are focusing on spiritual practice while ignoring traditional doctrine.” This is what others have called “worshipping form over substance” or in other words, “worshipping worship.” (See “Worshiping Worship” by my brother, Pastor Rick Shrader.) It is my judgment that much of contemporary music fails to accomplish the goals for which music in worship exists. It may make us feel good because we like the beat or whatever, but that does not make it appropriate for worship. Our churches are suffering spiritually because of this and our children are being robbed of a precious heritage.
RICK WARREN – THE OPPOSITE VIEW OF MUSIC AND WORSHIP
Rick Warren, taking the other side in his book The Purpose Driven Church, expands and expounds upon his contention that “music is neutral, only the words make the difference.” In the book he says, “I reject the idea music styles can be judged as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music. Who decides this? The kind of music you like is determined by your background and culture.” He goes on to say, “churches also need to admit that no particular style of music is ‘sacred.’ What makes a song sacred is its message. Music is nothing more than an arrangement of notes and rhythms; it’s the words that make a song spiritual. There is no such thing as ‘Christian music,’ only Christian lyrics. If I were to play a tune for you without words, you wouldn’t know if it was a Christian song or not.” (Not universally true in my opinion. If the word “sacred” intimates “set apart for God” then I submit to you that music that reflects or emulates the world or the culture is not sacred. My niece, a college graduate with a major in piano, pointed out with respect to Warren’s comments here that “No musician I know, Christian or secular (unless they have an agenda), would limit music to just the elements. That is a reductionism type of argument, like saying language can be reduced to letters, numbers, and spaces.…”) Then comes the clincher, the threat if you dare disagree with Warren, “To insist that one particular style of music is sacred is idolatry.” (“Straw men” make such good fire starters!) Warren says about his church services, “We’d alternate between traditional hymns, praise choruses, and contemporary Christian songs. We used classical, country, jazz, rock, raggae, easy listening, and even rap.” (I leave it to you to match which style of music fit into which classifications of traditional hymns, praise choruses, and contemporary.)
Regarding the above statements, I have trouble reconciling Warren’s position with the likes of James 4:4-5 wherein the Holy Spirit states through the half-brother of Jesus, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” Does this sound like a God who is unconcerned with how we come to him in worship (i.e. the methodology we use), whether it is regarding our music or other aspects of the service?
Prior to the statements contained in the above paragraph, Warren states, “Music is a divisive issue.” Strange, that something that is neutral is divisive, is it not? He goes on to state, “The style of music you choose to use in your services will be one of the most critical (and controversial) decisions you make in the life of your church.” (Again, strange words concerning something that is defended by him as absolutely neutral.) He goes on, “It may also be the most influential factor in determining who your church reaches for Christ and whether or not your church grows. You must match your music to the kind of people God wants your church to reach.” (I presume this is the essence of the current “Refocusing” effort being carried out by many churches around the country today, determining the “kind of people of God wants for our church” so they can “match our music” to them. What utter foolishness!! We need to establish a worship service that honors God in accordance with His word and then invite all who will, to come and observe or be a part of that which God desires of His people.)
With respect to Warren’s statement, “There is no such thing as ‘Christian music,’ only Christian lyrics,” even that flies in the face of today’s postmodern generation. A rock musician was recently interviewed by Bill O’Reilly on his TV show. O’Reilly questioned the use of extremely coarse language in the lyrics of the rock star’s songs and the effects such “poisoning” might have on teenagers’ minds. The rock musician’s response was, “What are you so upset about? They are just words.” I.e., words have no intrinsic value in and of themselves. They are morally neutral. Only actions have meaning. Which is exactly what said rock star indicated by noting how he and the band supported various “worthwhile” social causes and agencies.
While we may think this attitude is irrelevant to our church today, I submit to you that there is an element of reality in our worship music. We normally include some of the great hymns of the faith in our worship services. Many have both wonderful Godly words and music. Too often our singing is lifeless and dead. But as soon as the drumbeat from the Praise Choruses start up, the congregation comes to life clapping and swaying, even though the words of the associated praise chorus may be simplistic and repetitive. Thus, it is not the words that make the message, it is the feeling from the style of music that is the message. This is further reflected by comments such as, “The praise choruses are just so much more worshipful to me than those stodgy old hymns.”
Warren continues, “The music you use ‘positions’ your church in your community. It defines who you are. Once you have decided on the style you’re going to use in worship, you have set the direction of your church in far more ways than you realize. It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep, and the kind of people you lose.” Reference: Warren, The Purpose Driven Church Pages 280-281
I wholeheartedly agree with this last assessment by Warren. At the same time, I once again find this strange for something that is supposedly neutral or amoral. In my estimation, I think that because of this, it becomes highly incumbent upon us to be very cautious and determined as to the music we incorporate into our worship service. It is not that we do not want all to come to the knowledge of Christ. “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I Timothy 2:3-4. We do want them to be saved but according to knowledge, not feelings. (Feelings are fleeting, thus spirituality based upon feelings will only keep one focused on God as long as he or she feels worshipful. The apostle John states in I John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life,” not “so that you may feel that you have eternal life.” Feelings are never elevated in scripture while knowledge is constantly exalted. As a matter of fact, the word “feelings” is never mentioned in scripture while “feeling” is only mentioned twice, or three times at best – depending upon the version you are using, and then only in a negative context. “Know” or “knowledge” is mentioned over 1,000 times in scripture, normally in a positive vein.)
CULTURE AND BIBLICAL SEPARATION
Paul says of the Jews, “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:2-4 What I want of our services is for them to reflect I Corinthians 14:24-25 wherein Paul says, “But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God really is among you!’” How can we prophesy as a group any better than in corporate spiritual songs and hymns that reflect the truths of God’s word, or the corporate reading of scripture, thus edifying and admonishing all, both the believer and the unbeliever. Our goal in preaching and singing needs to be to “seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” I Corinthians 14:12b. What I do not find in scripture is the need to accommodate the culture (“culture” being a more amenably acceptable substitute word for what scripture calls “the world”), that we must “tickle their itching ears.” II Timothy 4:1-4. We are specifically instructed by God’s word that while we are in the world (the culture), we are to be separate from the world as indicated by verses such as John 17:15-16, I Corinthians 2:12-16, Ephesians 5:6-13, Colossians 2:8, James 1:27 & 4:4, I John 2:15 & 4:5. This is the essence of biblical separation as held and practiced by Baptists, and other evangelical and fundamental churches throughout the generations. See II Corinthians 6:14-17. (Of course, those of us who hold to Biblical separation are labeled by the progressive church growth movement as “isolationists,” otherwise termed “a holy huddle.” Reference Romans 11:16 & 12:1-2, Ephesians 1:4 & 2:21, II Timothy 1:9, Hebrews 3:1, plus I Peter 1:15-16 & 2:5 & 9 [a holy huddle for sure]).
THE INFLUENCE OF RICK WARREN’S VIEWPOINT
Many in the pulpit have claimed that they will never be a Rick Warren church. Yet many of these same pastors consider Warren to be the most innovative pastor in our generation and maybe of all time. Others are direct Warren advocates having gone through church growth and other training at Warren’s Saddleback Community Church. So, in this and many other ways, the sphere of influence of a Rick Warren readily reaches down into even the small community church. While we may not emulate them directly, the leaders of the church growth movements such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and John Maxwell, among others, have tremendously affected how we, as a church, even in small remote communities, view church worship. They have their well-honed arguments as to how to embrace the culture and while we may think we are not buying into their philosophy of ministry, we are certainly influenced by them far beyond what we may think we are.
DEFINITION OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC
This brings us to the issue of “contemporary music” and my definition of it. “Contemporary” to me is that which reflects the world. I realize that is my definition and others may define it differently as these are connotative definitions, not denotative. But I think my definition is aligned with artists like Amy Grant, the Oak Ridge Boys, and others who began in gospel but wanted desperately to attain the riches available in non-gospel music. Thus, artists of this ilk have been primarily responsible for the blending of so called gospel and non-gospel music into that which today is regarded as contemporary. These groups then spawned a whole new generation of trans-generational musicians such as Jars of Clay, Stryper, etc. that further transformed the contemporary style into such music forms as Rock and Raggae. Today we have an entire culture of CCM (such as Caedman’s Call and Audio Adrenaline) and Christian Rock (an oxymoron if you ask me) musicians who cause me to constantly change radio stations in my car – even listening to supposedly conservative “Christian” stations such as WCDR. While we may currently think or pledge that we will never have rock music in our church, I submit to you that may be true only for the moment. When one’s primary church emphasis is evangelical rather than doxological, one’s mind can be changed to pursue the pragmatic approach to church growth, whether employing rock music in the worship service or taking the name “Baptist” off the church sign. (This is happening all over the country as churches, particularly Baptist churches, remove any denominational affiliation from their church names in order to achieve their “renewed vision” of reaching the community for Christ. A 1999 article in Christianity Today noted that “Community” is now the most common church denominator. Thus, it is my opinion that our attitude towards music style is only the first step in redefining, refocusing, or “visioning” who we are as a church in order to accommodate the culture as opposed to retaining a historical biblical perspective of confronting the culture.)
But back to the definition of “contemporary.” The real issue in this case is not what I mean by “contemporary,” but what others intend by it. Key to this discussion is what is meant by a “blended” worship service, conventionally described as a mixture of “traditional and contemporary music.” What one congregation may mean by blended and what others confer or infer, may be two widely differing perspectives. What the majority of members at one church may mean by “blended” is a balanced mix of traditional hymns and praise choruses without inferring particular instrument types or style. Others, however, insist that such a simple mixture is not the essence of a blended service and that such a congregation is ignorant of the meaning of “blended” and “contemporary.” “They” further insist that contemporary means the use of drums, percussions, acoustic or electric guitars, and the like playing in an upbeat mode. They point out that while a congregation may claim to have a blended service by the simple intermixing of traditional hymns and praise choruses, that is not the case by the world’s or religious mainstream’s understanding of such. Thus, as to the question of “what do I mean by ‘contemporary,’” I submit that it is not what I imply by it but what the culture intends by such terminology. And yet, who are “they” to determine for us, as an independent Baptist or other independent church, what we must do to conform to a blended service? Yet, that is exactly what is happening.
Also, with respect to praise choruses and traditional hymns, why is it that in a blended service, we have a portion of time devoted to traditional hymns and then a portion for praise choruses? If they are truly a part of our worship of Almighty God, then why must they be separated or why must the services themselves be separated into contemporary and traditional as is happening all over the country? Why should they not be integrated into an overall consistent message for a particular service that accomplishes the tenets of music in worship as given previously?
In his chapter “How shall we sing to God,” referenced earlier, Leonard Payton goes on to state the following concerning contemporary music:
It is important to recognize that high culture [akin to the traditional] has its roots in aesthetics; folk culture [more in line with our praise choruses] has its roots in sociology. Comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges. They are both good when done well, and the canons of what is “good” are quite different for the two types. The Bible has a good deal more to say about folk culture than high culture, because folk culture is inextricably based in interpersonal relationships. Indeed, the church is a folk culture that transcends national and ethnic boundaries through a divinely inspired printed word.
There is yet a third type of culture or style presupposition that borrows liberally from folk and high culture. It is an impostor and a parasite because it is based in deceit. This third type of culture, or art, is made by people who tend not to know one another for people they do not know at all and will probably never meet. This is made possible by magnetic recording and by broadcasting. Before the twentieth century, the effects of these technologies and the kind of culture they would create were unimaginable.
This third type of culture is not fundamentally concerned with beauty of form, as in high art, or in wholesomeness of community, as in folk art. It is concerned primarily with dollars and cents; therefore, it is not surprising to discover that several Christian music companies are publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
The artists are not primarily held accountable to God for a transcendent standard of beauty, nor to a local community with ethical responsibility. Rather, the artists answer most directly to the shareholders. As the technology driving commercial music emerged, church leaders and seminary professors failed to realize how integral music was to the ministry of the Word. They left a gaping hole that business interests were all too ready to fill. In other words, music technology created a new entertainment market niche while ecclesiastical authorities stood by flat-footed.
The first objection runs something like this: “But aren’t all the people who work in these Christian music companies believers, and don’t they want to serve the Lord with their music?” Yes, their intentions may be good. The problem is not with their intentions but with their lines of accountability. There is no potential for church discipline when (if) these people spread marginal or outright false teaching. Whenever anyone teaches in the church, as Christian musicians certainly do, they display a low view of human depravity when their teaching ministry is accountable to shareholders rather to ecclesiastical authorities.
The second objection might run like this: “Isn’t popular music just today’s folk music?” This is, in reality, a good objection, since pop music forms often closely resemble folk music forms. If, however, we bear in mind that form and beauty are not the chief ends of folk music, the difference between folk and pop music will be clearer. Our God is at least as concerned with why we do something as with what we do, for out of the heart “are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23 KJV). It is a noble desire to “become all things to all men, that [we] may by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). But I would caution that to “become all things” does not mean to embrace the world’s culture uncritically. Remember, folk culture is primarily communal. Pop culture is primarily profit driven. Contemporary Christian music is a half-billion-dollar-a-year industry.
While Payton gives the commercial contemporary musicians rather high marks for “wanting to serve the Lord with their music,” I do not believe this is always the case. My brother, a Baptist pastor, recalls visiting a “Christian” recording studio while serving as a Youth Pastor for a large Baptist church. While the primary artists for the recordings were the church quartet, the background musicians were imported from the local music conservatory. They were basically scruffy looking musicians who played the music very well but were not Christians nor were they pretending to be. Listening to radio interviews with members of CCM groups such as Caedman’s Call and Audio Adrenaline highlights even further their lack of any true Christian testimony in deference to Payton’s remarks.
Often churches indiscriminately employ audiotapes, videotapes and/or CD’s as accompaniment in their worship services, particularly for the “contemporary” portion of the service. When we bring these musicians – instrumentalists and vocalists – into our worship service to lead our praise choruses via a tape or CD, we usually have no indication concerning the musicians’ testimony. If a church is going to use these in their services, then I have to ask, why not just be honest and forthright and bring in a local live “Christian” band if testimony is not an issue? They are available locally in almost any and every locale. Many churches, of course, have already done so. Eventually, that is likely where they will end up anyway. If people truly want percussion, guitars, etc. for the “praise and worship” part of the church service, then it will not be long before those desiring that type of service will be dissatisfied with the tapes and CD’s and will insist that in order to reach out to their local community with the gospel, they must have a more attractive service. And tapes and/or CD’s detract so much from the praise and worship service that what they will really need in order to effectively evangelize their community is a live band. The church will then not have an argument against it. After all, what is the difference between the percussion and guitars on the tapes and CD’s and a live band, except that the band is better. So, let’s save all that lost time and get the band on stage now! After all, as quoted once before, Rick Warren tells you, “”The music you use ‘positions’ your church in your community. It defines who you are. Once you have decided on the style you’re going to use in worship, you have set the direction of your church in far more ways than you realize. It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep, and the kind of people you lose.” Thus, a live band will enhance a church’s effectiveness in reaching that portion of the community drawn by the type and style of music being played.
(And if testimony is not an issue, then would it not be better to obtain CD’s of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the London Symphony Orchestra to lead the traditional hymns portion of the service. After all, think of how that sound could reverberate through a really good sound system in the church auditorium! Of course, I am being facetious at this point but the principle is valid.)
DRUMS IN THE WORSHIP SERVICE
Am I against instruments in the church other than piano and organ? Absolutely not! Not as long as they truly help the congregation – those worshippers who are come together – to better fulfill the tenets of music in worship set forth above. But am I against drums, percussion and guitars being played in a truly contemporary/worldly (world pleasing) style? Absolutely! Are drums and a drumbeat neutral or amoral? For the answer to that, I would first like for you to talk to my friend from high school who played drums in the school band and then in a rock band for several years after high school – before he became a Christian. He will tell you unequivocally how drums are intended to elicit certain responses from the audience and he can tell you just how it is done because that was his job when he played in those bands. (My wife has pointed out, with respect to drums, that they are not mentioned anywhere in scripture which is interesting in light of the fact that certainly there must have been drums available early in history as it is the simplest of all instruments to construct – in at least a crude form. I did do a small amount of research on the subject to verify her proposition. In reality, there is a form of drum mentioned in scripture which is the timbrel or tambourine. However, as the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes concerning this subject:
In the Old Testament the drum is used on festive occasions; it is not mentioned in connection with Divine service. It was generally played by women, and marked the time at dances or processions (Exodus 15:20 for instance).
SO, WHAT IS MY POSITION ON MUSIC AND WORSHIP?
I am not against new music or praise choruses. I was raised on both. Not all was good, but a lot was. Yet many of the excellent praise choruses with which my wife and I grew up, our grandchildren and their friends have never heard much less know. However, while I may not be against choruses, etc., I am avidly against stupidity and things being done poorly, particularly when it comes to the church. I often truly wish I could be like so many and not care as long as I am cozy and comfortable (I call it being a “bobblehead”), but, alas, I cannot.
A number of people have asked me what I want to see with respect to music in our worship services. If it were up to me, I would change the way we approach even the traditional hymns so that they truly accomplish the purposes listed herein. We need to better understand what we are singing and why. Our kids need to hear and understand this. They need to learn those solid choruses of the past as well as the new hymns and choruses. As to the choruses, I would do away with tapes and CD’s and return to singing these to God within our own native capabilities, using our own accompaniment and probably often singing acappella. I would have the choir practice all of the songs to be employed in each worship service to the point that they knew them in four-part harmony when appropriate and truly be able to lead the congregation in these songs. I would also opt for good songbooks. There are some marvelous ones on the market. There are hymnals out now with a blend of wonderful traditional hymns that many people in our local churches have never sung or heard because they are not in their old, antiquated, outdated hymnals nor are they part of the choruses shown on the overhead screen. Some of the newer hymnals have a tremendous blend of traditional and contemporary hymns and choruses. But they have something more, that the screen in the corner does not have – musical notes by which those who have the capability can read the notes and sing in that wonderful style created in us by God – vocal harmony! (It is a shame that our grandkids and particularly our great grandchildren may never know the joy of singing something other than melody while accompanied by those instrumentalists who are able to read notes.) I think it is a shame that as part of the overall “dumbing” down of our culture, that it not only includes substituting reading about the Bible for reading of the Bible but also insists on mindlessly singing to words on a screen as opposed to making music to our Lord. (Yes, I have heard all the arguments about how much more worshipful it is to look up to God – looking up to the screen – as opposed to looking down into a book. Well, many of us have been trained to read music from a book and think about what is being sung while letting our minds reach up to Almighty God. So can others likewise be trained.)
To quote once again from Leonard Payton:
Prudential wisdom would encourage us to consider not buying and using commercial Christian music. On the face of it, this measure might seem Draconian, in part because it will force us to home-grow our own contemporary worship music, and the bald fact remains that music literacy has dropped to such a dismal level that skilled composers are not frequently found in local congregations. The local church will have to review its vision in light of this failing and take steps to remedy it. As worship music begins to flex its biblical muscles, we will quickly find that our general music literacy is woefully inadequate to the task. This will take a generation or two, thousands of hours of careful music study, and many dollars to remedy. The church has left the job of music education to the public school and to the whim of individuals. But public schools do not train very good worship musicians.
One thing that new/young believers want, particularly in today’s postmodern world, is “proof texts” to prove one’s point. And that particularly pertains to music in the church. The position of many, including those like Rick Warren unfortunately, is that if you cannot show me chapter and verse as to why one should not do something, then I have no right to oppose it. Well, there are many things in life for which if we had chapter and verse for every aspect, we wouldn’t be able to transport the book or books. Just look at the law books for our current state or federal laws. Try to transport the volume upon volume of law books for just one state and often just for one discipline of law within that state. It is my belief that God gave us elders that were to be wise (and I admit that sadly many have abrogated their position of responsibility to others, particularly to the younger, and this is wrong) and that the wisdom of the elders is to be employed when we do not have chapter and verse. And I can provide chapter and verse that tells the younger to respect the elders in the church!
As to the traditional hymns in church being boring at times, I totally agree. That is because we are just going through the motions and singing songs that have, or seemingly have, no purpose. That is boring no matter the style. That is one reason why I advocate having hymnals with the really great hymns to which too many congregations have never been exposed. In addition to good hymnals, we need to instruct the young believers as to the history of many of the hymns and help them understand their greatness in relating the truths of God’s word. Without that understanding, many of the hymns are just so many antiquated words. At the same time, the younger believers need to understand the importance of the heritage being passed along in the traditional hymns and revere them in much the same manner as God repeatedly instructs the Jews to remind the nation of Israel, and particularly the children, of how he rescued the Israelites from Egypt. That repeats itself in scripture many times through the centuries right into the New Testament. Those of us who are more mature need to do a better job of communicating these values to younger believers. Further, it is the duty of us all to respect and learn from the battles our forefathers fought with Satan and the world and through it all persevered. We need to do this through song and other forms of communication.
My dear old grandmother used to say concerning church music, “Music is the Devil’s workshop.” She was not against music in church nor did she intend to mean that Christian music was evil. Only that the Devil was able to use music to wreak havoc within the church. My mother used to teach high school English, noting the attitude of high school students – beginning in the ‘60’s. She proclaimed that as a teacher she could talk about and criticize any aspect of student behavior from the use of illegal drugs to engaging in illicit sex and no one would challenge her comments or attitude. But the one thing that was “off limits” was their music. Being critical of any aspect of the cultural music styles of the day was immediately met with stiff resistance. This attitude has seemingly permeated the church today, particularly with respect to the progressive use of more culturally relevant music within today’s worship services.
Music is an important element of our worship services. As worshippers come together before Holy God, it is essential that we come before Him in a manner that honors Him according to His holy word. Thus, I close by emphasizing once again the tenets for the purpose of music in worship as identified herein with this one last quote from Leonard Payton:
We will need to review the way we spend our time in corporate worship. Each Sunday, we will need to ask, “Did the music ministry today cause the word of Christ to dwell in us richly? Did we teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? Did we sing with gratitude in our hearts to God for Christ’s finished work on the cross? My guess is that we will quickly find that we do not.